By most definitions, local archer Allison Eaton is an action hero.
A mild-mannered high school science teacher by day, a bow-wielding archer in the murky hours before dawn.
Factor in her roles as firefighter and emergency medical technician, teacher, wife and mother, this Olympic hopeful is surely as much a hero as any Marvel comic book icon.
Certainly she prefers bows and arrows to bows and ribbons, just like Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” or Disney’s “Brave” princess Merida.
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Now in her 10th year teaching science at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, Eaton scoffs at the notion of “hero.”
“I don’t look much like one,” Eaton said, laughing.
Superhero quality No. 1: humility. Check.
“She’s just so sweet and nice, we all just love her to death,” said Lynne Albert, who once competed with Eaton and now coaches with her at Wolf Ridge Archery at Camp Chestnut Ridge and Retreat in Efland.
“We just cheer her on so much,” Albert added. “She plays herself down. She doesn’t promote herself at all.”
If the second quality of any action hero is hidden talent, Eaton’s got it in spades.
“She can shoot 100 or 200 arrows the same way and hit a target (70 meters away) the size of a half-dollar,” Albert said. She’s so consistent. She shoots like a robot. And she’s also extremely dedicated.
“She gets up at 5 a.m. before she goes to school and shoots. I don’t know anybody as dedicated as her in any sport.”
A three-time National Field Archers of America outdoor national champion (women’s recurve division), Eaton has also won the North Carolina Field Archery Association’s indoor women’s recurve championship for the past three years.
In May, Eaton successfully competed in Eagle Lake, Texas, and made the World Field Archery Team that will represent the U.S. at the World Archery Field Championships in Zagreb, Croatia.
While target archery pits competitors who try to hit standing targets across a standard open distance of 70 meters, field archery requires more flexibility and analytical thinking from the archer. Field targets are in a variety of sizes and distances, and course designers will tax competitors’ talents with particular challenges like asymmetrical targets or hilly terrain.
“I really love field (archery),” Eaton said. “There aren’t actually a lot of women who do it. It’s rigorous, and it takes a lot of stamina.”
“The recurve bow doesn’t have all the wheels on it like the compound bow,” Eaton explained. “It has stabilizers and a sight, so it looks a little like a satellite. It’s what I started with back in college, and it’s the only bow you can shoot with in the Olympics.”
This past weekend, Eaton took her talents to Chula Vista, Cal., and the SoCal Showdown, a USA Archery Qualifier Series Event that featured nearly 500 archers in a standing target competition at the Olympic Training Center.
“This is the third event in the U.S. Archery team trials,” Eaton said Friday, phoning from the rental-car line at the airport upon arriving in California, the next stop on her continuing quest to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Archery team.
“After this tournament, I’m actually going to have a ranking,” she said. “You need to be in the top three to go to the Olympics, but I’ve got another two seasons to get there.”
Don’t gauge Eaton’s chances of making the trip to Rio 2016 by her own self-appraisal, Albert said.
“Nobody else in the state can touch her,” Albert said. “Everybody else is shooting for second place. She’s so far above every other woman archer in the state, it’s not even close.
“I believe she not only can make the team, she can also help the U.S. medal in archery for the first time in a decade,” Albert said. “She’s our best hope. She really is.”
And archery affords Eaton an Olympic opportunity that other events might not.
“I just turned 50,” she said. “I’m one of the older competitors, but several of the oldest Olympians have been archers. It’s not something you age out of like, say, basketball or something like that.”
Eaton’s love of archery is not new but perhaps, better, renewed.
“She was an All-American in college, but you know how life intervenes,” Albert said. “Now she’s kind of circling back on her dreams … and she’s so fearless now. She’ll just stand up there at the line and shoot no matter what’s going on.”
Eaton said on her own website that “I had always wanted to shoot,” but sisn[’t get started until her sophomore year at Miami University in Ohio.
Eaton couldn’t have picked a better location than Ohio, a Mecca for archers, replete with coaching excellence. Within two months, she was second in state, within one year she was All-American, and by the time she graduated, she was the No. 5 female collegiate archer in the nation, with a world record in “clout” — long-distance target shooting.
The year after she graduated and started teaching, she still managed to make it to the 1988 Olympic Trials.
Soon, however, Eaton had a baby daughter and priorities shifted, so she set archery aside.
Flash-forward 17 years, and Eaton was a teacher with teenage children, who began to encouraged her to start shooting again.
Eaton unpacked her archaic fiberglass bow for a National Target Championship in Ohio, where everyone else was using carbon bows. While her bow was dusty, Eaton proved she was not, finishing 12th.
In the five years that have followed, Eaton has spent almost as much effort passing on her knowledge and growing the sport as she has training for it herself.
“She decided to start an archery club the year my son entered Cedar Ridge High School as a freshman,” Albert said. “I called her up and said ‘… I’d like to coach,’ so we started the Cedar Ridge club, which we expanded to be Wolf Ridge so that kids from other schools could shoot. Now we have kids from six different schools.”
“It’s a Junior Olympic development archery club,” said Eaton, now director of Wolf Ridge Archery.
While this reluctant superhero has hidden talent, humility, dedication, plus the support of her husband, children, employer and friends, what she lacks are resources.
“The road to the Olympics is a long one, but it is also extremely expensive,” Eaton wrote on her fundraising website.
“Tournament expenses, archery equipment, and coaching fees really add up. I know that I can make the team, but I cannot make it to all the qualifying tournaments without financial support.”
“Even though she made the U.S. World Field Archery Team, she still has to pay her own way to Croatia to compete for the U.S.,” Albert said. “So we are all trying to help her get to all the tournaments she needs to compete in in order to make the Olympic team.
Albert noted that Eaton has a fundraising site for her Olympic dream at www.goFundMe.com/teachersOlympicQuest.
Given her abilities, Eaton may truly belong on that hallowed ground between Avengers and the Mockingjay, standing watch over us all. Her work ethic alone is certainly superhuman.
“Typically, I get up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. to do a workout,” Eaton said. “I teach biology and anatomy and physiology, botany, and zoology, and then I come home and shoot for several hours, and when I’m done with that, I go in and grade papers until my eyes cross, literally.”
In fact, everybody sees Allison Eaton’s role as heroic.
Everyone but Eaton, who also serves as a firefighter and EMT in Cedar Grove.
“I don’t go around carrying my bow around,” she said, chuckling, “but the kids at school are all pretty excited about all of it. They embarrass me at school, but it’s fun.”
“Her story is a Hallmark movie in the making,” Albert added.